Hollander Shares Humorous 'Tales of Graceful Aging' Nicole Hollander talks about her comic strip "Sylvia" and her new book, Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial. Hollander's book puts a much-needed humorous spin on getting older.
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Hollander Shares Humorous 'Tales of Graceful Aging'

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Hollander Shares Humorous 'Tales of Graceful Aging'

Hollander Shares Humorous 'Tales of Graceful Aging'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

Nicole Hollander grew up in a time when getting old looked a particular way: shapeless dresses, terrycloth slippers, slightly blue hair, and days spent watching soaps, and maybe knitting toilet paper covers. But these are not your mother's golden years. The whole experience is beginning to change. More and more women will spend more time being old - men for that matter, as well - and were determined not to waste a minute of it.

Nicole Hollander is figuring out exactly how to do that. Her new book is called "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial." She's the creator of the comic strip "Sylvia," and she's our guest today.

We invite you to join us as well. What are your stories of graceful or not so graceful aging? If 60 is the new 40, when do we just get to be old and relax? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

A little later in the hour, offsets aren't just for carbon anymore. We have an e-mail challenge for you. If you could buy an offset for anything - maybe a donation to a fitness program for skipping a workout or a contribution to PBS for every hour of reality TV that you watch - if you could offset it, what would it be? And what would you have to do to offset the guilt? E-mail your ideas now to talk@npr.org.

But first, Nicole Hollander, thanks for joining us.

Ms. NICOLE HOLLANDER (Creator, "Sylvia"; Author, "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial"): Thank you.

BROOKS: I love this book. It's funny, and I want to get to some of the funny stuff in it. But there's a serious commentary underlying much of it. Tell us what inspired you to write "Tales of Graceful Aging."

Ms. HOLLANDER: Well, you know, I did, sort of, out of the corner of my eye notice that I was aging. And I had created a cartoon character who would age instead of me.

BROOKS: This is Sylvia.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Yeah, Sylvia. And much to my surprise, I started aging, and she remained absolutely the same. I mean, her skin is totally without wrinkles. She looks unblemished. She looks the same as the day that I bore her. So I've been thinking about aging for a very long time. That is, you know, when I first noticed it. And I started writing and sending these thoughts to publishers, and people were incredibly disinterested in aging.

BROOKS: Now why is that? I mean, you would think everyone would be interested in aging. It's something that's going to happen to all of us after all.

Ms. HOLLANDER: I think it's like a dirty little secret, you know, that perhaps it won't happen to you. And when the baby boomers age, then no one could deny that we were all going to age and need new ankles and hips.

BROOKS: I'm wondering if I can get you to do a small reading from the book, just to kind of set the tone here at the beginning of the hour. It's on page 18, where you describe the dilemma of modern-day aging.


(Reading) Okay, 60 is the new 40. Old age doesn't start when we thought it did. Now, it's mandatory to become a second-wind achiever. Just what I needed - more stress, more pressure. I had my plans set. I was thinking about breaking in a new housedress, a tight perm, and riding the backs of my fluffy house shoes right down until they were backless.

I plan to perfect my shuffle from the living room where the TV is, to the kitchen and back with a quick pit stop at my bathroom with metal rails strategically placed. Oh, rats. Now, it turns out that we've got a bunch of bonus years. We are not officially old until 85.

BROOKS: Now, isn't that a good thing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLANDER: I don't know. I mean, we don't have anyone that showed us the way to do this. I think it's - it was interesting, I was listening about talking about replacement parts, and someone was saying that when people did aerobics, a kind of exercise, they didn't wear the right shoes. They didn't know that this would come back to haunt them. Of course, and I sensed that it would come back to haunt me, so I didn't do any of that.

BROOKS: So when you say there's no roadmap how to do this, I mean, what does that mean in practical terms? What are the kind of issues, the kind of awkward issues that you're encountering and dealing with, and that you're obviously dealing within this book in a big way?

Ms. HOLLANDER: Well I think that we grew up with the expectation that you would stop doing certain things. And we still hear that in our heads that you are too old to do this. You're too old to go out dancing. You're too old to wear that skirt above your navel, you know? So we have to make up a new way of being even though we're getting all sorts of messages that say don't do that. Just be the way you were. Be a nice grandmother to me even though you have no grandchildren.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. So is there some regret? I mean, is there some sort of, like, enough, already, let me just kind of be all the way - be older the way people used to be older?

Ms. HOLLANDER: Well, perhaps a little bit of that. But, really, I am enjoying myself.

BROOKS: That's good.


BROOKS: There's a section in your book, though, where you do talk about - I mean, you talk about two things early on in the book about all the things you can still do even though you're getting older. But then there is a section of the book where, you know, you have to face there are certain things you're never going to do. I'm just leafing through it and trying to find it, but, you know, you're not going to be a pilot of an F16.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Oh, yeah, that's the bottom. That's the bottom of page 18 and 19.

BROOKS: Just read that a little bit.


BROOKS: Because that made me laugh.

Ms. HOLLANDER: (Reading) I am. I am really happy that there are certain things that's too late to do. No one will ever expect me to ride a horse across the desert or swim the English Channel or play Grace Kelly in the movie of her life. In-line skating is close to me as is a medical career. I will not ride in a demolition derby or drive a Porsche on the Autobahn.

I will not dine on camel tongue or eat that fish in Japan that gives you a poisonous buzz, or herd cattle, or play the machines in the Casino called something like the Delta Queen, and wink at the guy who has just hit the jackpot on the quarter slots and leave the same night to get married in Las Vegas at the Elvis Chapel because that is something, it turns out, that both of us have always wanted to do. But this is what I'm really happy about. On the other hand, it's also way too late for me to give birth to someone who will grow up to be a serial killer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: That's Nicole Hollander, reading from her book "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial."

And we're asking you for your stories of graceful aging - or maybe not so graceful aging - to give us a call at 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK.

And let's go to Frances(ph) who's calling from Placerville, California. Hi, Francis, you're on the air.

FRANCES (Caller): Hi. Thank you for having me on the air. Well, I regarded getting older as an opportunity because I could retire from being a legal secretary and from - I'm 77 now.

And at the age of 70, I started a non-profit organization to help the Tibetan government in exile in India because of the refugee situation there, knowing that the Tibetan government needed help. So I went over to India several times along with some doctors that I know, and we started giving money to the government there on behalf of their home for handicapped children.

I also brought over a student - helped bring over student. The refugee situation isn't great for university study for the Tibetans in India. So she came over and she's now just gotten her master's degree at Davis University. So et cetera, et cetera, the point is these are the most wonderful years of my life.

I don't think about the fact that I'm old except when my knees hurt. And as long as I'm mobile, I'll keep doing the things that really excite me and that really are of help to other people. I love to hear old people talk about helping others because our experience is what makes it possible and makes it advantageous for others. If we really have a goal in mind, a purpose in my mind, and if our purpose is to help the world, we can do it.

BROOKS: Well, Frances, thanks so much for the great call. Appreciate it.

FRANCES: You're very welcome.

BROOKS: What do you hear in Frances' statement there, Nicole Hollander? That was nice, positive outlook.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Wonderful. Incredible. She makes me feel tremendously guilty like a slacker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLANDER: Really, you know, she is very wonderful. I was - I'm so happy that was the first call.

BROOKS: Let me read an e-mail from one of our listeners, Marie(ph) in Mesa, Arizona. She writes, I'm almost 60 and I'm freaking out as you speak. I'm spending a fortune in cosmetics, Retin-A. Anything shy of a surgical facelift is okay with me. And that - and 60 is not the new 40. We're just kidding ourselves. Let your egos go, folks. It's pretty much downhill from here.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Oh, God. See, now, you have made me feel like a split personality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLANDER: Because at first, I hear this wonderful call about a woman who is not at all talking about what she looks like.


Ms. HOLLANDER: She's just so full of energy and excitement about starting a whole new life, a whole new career. I just don't think this has to be the end. It is really - it's really sad to think that this is the end. And when you hear someone like Frances, then you have to say, it's up to me.

BROOKS: Yeah. Just like in your book, there's a section about plastic surgery. You don't come out as a big fan.

Ms. HOLLANDER: No, I was terrified, which is good because it protected me from actually doing it.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. But there is a lot in your book about choosing the way that people age, how people dress, how we live, how we even die. I mean, do you sort of come down on this as a blessing or a curse, overall?

I mean, the whole…

Ms. HOLLANDER: Becoming old?

(Soundbite of laughter)


Ms. HOLLANDER: I mean, there is really nothing we can do except, I think, fantasy and being in your head, you know, and having wonderful dreams. But mainly, mainly, I think that friendship is what gets us through all of this - that and buying wonderful shoes. So I think there's all sorts of exciting things to do, and I really think you can start a new career late. I, you know, I was reading about all these self-help books about retirement and how jolly and appealing that is, but the truth is that it is appealing and it can be done.

BROOKS: You mentioned friends, and your girlfriends are a constant companion in this book. Are they real or composites, because they're quite vivid, some of them?

Ms. HOLLANDER: They're real, certainly. And what I would do is take an incident that actually happened when I was with a friend and then just turn that into a story. You know, the time that I was with a friend in a store and I was trying on a skirt, and she looked at me and she said, we're too old to wear skirts. It was sort of like that is the final word on the subject, you know?

BROOKS: Hang on, Nicole.

Ms. HOLLANDER: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: We're going to take a short break and then we'll come back. We're talking with Nicole Hollander. The book is called "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial." More on the book in a minute and more from Nicole Hollander.

And tell us your stories of graceful or not so graceful aging. Call us at 800-989-TALK, or send us an e-mail at talk@npr.org. We'll be back in a minute.

I'm Anthony Brooks. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

BROOKS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington.

There are a lot of books out there that are full of very popular advice on growing old gracefully - Nicole Hollander's is probably not one of those. The title might say it best. It's called "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial." And at our Web site, you can read her ideas on how to fill your free time with some creative senior-citizen activities, and think more Baileys and less shuffleboard. That's an excerpt from her book at npr.org/talk.

We also want your stories of graceful or not-so-graceful aging. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And we're happy to have Nicole Hollander with us. And Nicole, I want to go right to a caller because we've got a lot of folks who are dying to get in on this conversation. So, let's go to Rita(ph) who's calling from Tulsa. Hi, Rita. You're on the air.

RITA (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to tell you that getting old is not for sissies, I can tell you that. I've been widowed for five years, after caring for a disabled husband with Parkinson's. And five years have now lapsed. And we had a successful business for 35 years, and I decided that I wanted a second career so…

BROOKS: And so what did you do?

RITA: Well, after I turned 79 in August, I signed up with a talent agency…

BROOKS: Good for you.

RITA: …and I go on photo shoots for commercials, did some video commercials and whatever I can do. Whenever the talent agency calls me, I'm there. I am - my middle name is available.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: And Rita, can I ask how your health is at 79?

RITA: Oh, at 79 - the big problem I have is breaking a few bones along the way. But it hasn't stopped me. It slowed me a little bit, but it hasn't stopped me. I still have a voice and I still have the energy. And I get bored very easily, so I've got to stay active and busy. And my friends just kind of roll their eyes because they'd prefer to sit and play cards. And frankly, I find it very boring.

BROOKS: Well, I'm with you, Rita. Keep it up. Thanks a lot.

RITA: Thank you.

BROOKS: I appreciate the call.

RITA: Sure.

BROOKS: Nicole, it's often said that particularly for women, aging lets you stop worrying about all the silly things you worried about in youth. Does that kind of - I mean, that seems to sort of come out in your book in a funny way. Do you agree with that?

Ms. HOLLANDER: What were those silly things we worried about when we were young - you mean by going out with boys and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: Well, sort of like the certain kind of superficial vanity, maybe, I'm not sure.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Yeah, yeah, worrying about did we look exactly like everyone else. Worried about - you know, I find that young girls are somewhat worried about speaking up for themselves and worried that they might be called feminists or something awful like that. So I think that as you grow up, you know more what you think is right and what you think is important in life. And you should have the guts by the time you're of certain age to be able to fight for it.

BROOKS: Well, let's take another call. Let's go to - so let's go to Lisa(ph) who's calling from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hi, Lisa. You're on the air.

LISA (Caller): Hi, thank you so much for letting me come on and speak with you all. I just turned 37 this week and I expect to live at least another 60 years, because everyone in my family lives well into their 90s. And I have some wonderful role model to people who've lived that long. I have a great aunt who lived to be 95 years old and would walk the hills adjacent to her (unintelligible) facility in San Diego, California, much to the chagrin of the staffs. So, to appease them, she would bring her walker along.

There are other family members who would bike all over their small town in Minnesota where they live, you know, because they don't want to miss lunch. Because they couldn't drive anymore, so they have these great old bikes and they would bike from here and there. And, I guess, I always feel when I look at them that age is a state of mind. And I want to grow old gracefully and have fun and see the world and travel, as many of them have.

BROOKS: That sounds like a good goal. Thanks, Lisa. Appreciate it.

LISA: All right. Thank you so much.

BROOKS: Well, you're hearing…

Ms. HOLLANDER: I'm being totally inspired here.

BROOKS: Well, that's great.

Ms. HOLLANDER: I may go out and start riding a bike. When I was younger - and I would say this through my cartoon character - I thought that I had gotten enough exercise if I went to the mailbox and picked up my mail.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLANDER: And suddenly, at this age, I do Pilates and tai chi and swing dancing. And I don't know why in the world I didn't allow that in my life earlier.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Well, you've come to things sort of - I mean, you write about this in your book. You've taken your time getting to certain, sort of, critical moments in your life. I mean, you didn't figure out what you wanted to do professionally until you were 40, correct?

Ms. HOLLANDER: Right. I started my - life begins at 40 - I started "Sylvia" at 40. I did a book first and it was published, and then I was approached by a syndicate and then I was turned down by a syndicate and then finally, did do my strip.

BROOKS: But it - you know, you took some time to find your career. You wrote that you were torn between helping others and a world in the arts. How did you resolve that?

Ms. HOLLANDER: Well, I actually spoke to someone at a university - I think it was Tufts in Boston - and I said, you know, I'm really torn between wanting to be a social worker and wanting to be an artist. And he said, well, if you combine them, what you can be is an art therapist. And for someone to say that very clearly, I thought, not what I want.

The other thing that I wanted was not to stand in front of my canvas - I mean, I was a painter at that time - and just investigate the dark side of my soul. I really wanted to connect with people. I'm more social than that. And so the cartoon really combined, in a way, helping other people and humor and politics and drawing. So for me, it was absolutely perfect and a godsend.

BROOKS: Well, let's go to Nancy(ph) who's calling from Grafton, Wisconsin. Hi, Nancy.

NANCY (Caller): Good afternoon. Well, when I was 14 years old, I lived on a farm and I was the eldest of six kids. And it was the week before Christmas, and our mom was killed in a car accident. And we had - well, the youngest one was 3 years old at the time, and I'm 14 and living on a farm, six miles out of town, nobody is going to come and work, do housekeeping. So I finished my freshman year in high school and I always wanted to be a nurse, but I stayed home and learned how to bake and cook and clean and sew. And then I got married, and my husband and I had 14 children.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Fourteen.

NANCY: When our youngest child was born, I was 46. And I decided I'm going to go and be a nursing assistant. So I went to classes and I worked for 14 years in our county nursing home, and I loved my job. And then I retired, but I still do private duty work in nursing homes. And you know what the beautiful thing is? I'm younger than all of those folks there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NANCY: And I love them, they love me and I get so much more than I give. And I like to sing, and we do that at nursing homes. And it's just been a beautiful, beautiful life. And I just think, you know, you're never too old, and as long as you can be happy inside who you are, that way you can spread it around and it's, you know, it's kind of catching.

BROOKS: Well, Nancy, what a nice call. Thanks so much.

NANCY: Thank you.

BROOKS: Appreciate it. Nicole, another call to inspire you, what do you think?

Ms. HOLLANDER: I know. I don't where you find these people.

BROOKS: Oh, we spend all morning digging them up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLANDER: This is wonderful.

BROOKS: Let's go to Mike(ph) who's calling from Charlotte, North Carolina. Hi, Mike.

MIKE (Caller): How are you doing?

BROOKS: Pretty well.

MIKE: Good. Unlike some of your callers, my relatives died very young. And in fact, my parents died when I was only 20 years old, so I haven't had any kind of training, so to speak, as to what I should expect when I get to the age that I'm at. I'm 58 years old and I feel like I'm 40. So, you know, it's one of those situations where I had nothing to compare what I'm going through in the changes physically and emotionally and mentally, going from 40 to 50 and 50 to 60 now, because I had nothing to gauge what I was going through because my parents died so young.

Ms. HOLLANDER: That's interesting because it's like the positive part of having absolutely no role models. I was reading about tests that people are given for memory and that when you're older, if the doctors said something like, memory -there's a great deal of memory loss with aging, then people do badly. And if they say, it seems that age does not affect memory, then people do very well.

MIKE: Yeah.

BROOKS: Interesting.

MIKE: Well, I'll just tell you one quick story…

BROOKS: Please do, Mike.

MIKE: …and then, I'll let you go. The only way that I know that I'm getting older is because I still look at women the way I looked at them when I was 20.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE: They just don't look back at me the same way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: All right.

MIKE: So you all have a great day.

BROOKS: I feel your pain, Mike. Thanks a lot.

MIKE: Okay.

BROOKS: Thanks for the call. Okay. Let's take another call. Let's go to Catherine(ph) from Jacksonville, Florida. Hi, Catherine.

CATHERINE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for having me on.

BROOKS: You're welcome.

CATHERINE: I just - actually, it's kind of ironic the gentleman previously has commented. I'm 45 years old, and I'm going out with a guy that's 32…

BROOKS: Well, good for you.

CATHERINE: …and that's just something new. I found a lot of ladies that I know - my age group have or dating gentleman in their 30s. And, like I tell my children, you know, whatever - if you've got it, flaunt it. And my son always tells me, mom, you should act your age. And I said I never intend to act my age. I intend to have - be young and youthful until the day I die.

BROOKS: All right. Well, Catherine, thanks a lot.

CATHERINE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Appreciate the call. What do you think of the point that Catherine brings up, Nicole?

Ms. HOLLANDER: I think that's - I think it's fabulous. I was just, you know -see, I'm one caller behind. I'm thinking of telling Mike that he can still look at women, but he should look at them his own age.

BROOKS: Oh, that would help.

Ms. HOLLANDER: You know, that would help.

BROOKS: I hope you're still listening, Mike. But what about this issue? In fact - we're going to go to a break shortly. I'd like you to read a little bit. There's a part in your book about sex. This is part of the one-woman show you've been doing, and I want to get you to read it. But let's do that after the break.


BROOKS: But tell us, first of all, this issue that our last caller raised, and that is older women with younger men. You have a section in the book about that, I believe.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Do I, really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: Am I recalling that incorrectly?

Ms. HOLLANDER: What did I say? I think it's great. I think it's - that she should date, you know, whoever she likes and whoever she has great fun with it. I think that it's been said that it's more difficult for women to attract younger men, but here's a woman who's saying no problem.

BROOKS: No problem at all. We're talking to Nicole Hollander. She's the author of "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial."

You can join the conversation by giving us a call at 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, or else you can e-mail us your tales of graceful aging at talk@npr.org.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Nicole, can I get you to do that reading? This…

Ms. HOLLANDER: Sure. What page were you talking about?

BROOKS: You know, I'm not even sure because I just made a note of it and I didn't write it down. It's the section about sex and…

Ms. HOLLANDER: Return to lust?

BROOKS: That's it.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Mm-hmm.


Ms. HOLLANDER: And which part of it?

BROOKS: Whatever part you think will strike a chord with our listeners.


BROOKS: And remember this is a family program.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Hmm. I can say sex, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BROOKS: All set?


BROOKS: All right. Go ahead.

Ms. HOLLANDER: (Reading) I'm getting myself in the mood by listening to songs from James Bond. Nobody does it better. It makes me feel sad for the rest. Nobody does it half as good as you, baby. Baby, you're the best. Okay, I am now so stoked I can hardly walk.

I calculated that I hadn't had sex for 10 years. It turns out that it's been 14. I know that because I called Dominic(ph) long distance, the last man I had sex with. I asked him, when is the last time I had sex? He's that surprised by my call. We were together from 1980 to 1989, so it's been 14 years. Fourteen years? Are you sure? I can't believe it.

I called someone who's my age, and I'm sure who's been having sex. Carol(ph), I say, you're postmenopausal, got any tips for me because I'm going to be having sex for the next 10 days? Carol says, you think I'm having sex? You must be nuts. I'm not having sex. But let me get a cigarette, because if you're having sex, I want to hear all about it.

BROOKS: That's Nicole Hollander, reading from her book "Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial." And let's try to get one more call in. Wayne(ph) is calling from Boulder, Colorado. Hi, Wayne.

WAYNE (Caller): Hello.

BROOKS: You're on the air.

WAYNE: Thank you. It's - I'm disconcerted by the fact that there is a disregard for the wisdom that comes with age and the growing infatuation with youthfulness that we are expected. I'm nearly 60. I've just gone back to school. I'm, you know, the oldest person in my class by many decades, but I'm saddened by this constant dumbing down, I think, of age to, you know, sex frankly.

BROOKS: Well, Wayne, thanks for the call. Let's put that point to Nicole Hollander and get her to respond to it. What do you think of Wayne's idea, saddened by the idea of this infatuation with youth? Do we make too much of it?

Ms. HOLLANDER: Oh, I don't think that anyone could really argue with that. But I do think the culture puts an enormous emphasis on being young. So many people are dyeing their hair. So many people are trying to look younger. I think that it's very difficult to fight against, and I think, mainly you really have to ignore it. You really have to have a wonderful, interesting life and, as Wayne says, going back to school. It doesn't matter that he's the oldest one, although, really, so many people go back to school as we heard from the callers, that Wayne is not alone.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. So what's next for you? I mean, you're obviously - you still got your "Sylvia" comic strip, you've written several books. Are you going to reinvent yourself again at some point?

Ms. HOLLANDER: I think I have five more years in this skin, and then I'm going to reinvent myself. But don't ask me what it is. It will be a surprise for both of us.

BROOKS: So no ideas at all?

Ms. HOLLANDER: Not yet. I don't think it's going to involve skydiving, though.

BROOKS: Well, you've a lot of lives before you started "Sylvia," so my guess is you've got at least a few more following this book. That's my guess.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Thank you.

BROOKS: Well, thank you. Thank you for joining us, Nicole Hollander. I'm very grateful.

Ms. HOLLANDER: Thank you.

BROOKS: That's Nicole Hollander. Her new book is called "Tales of Graceless Aging from the Planet Denial." You can read an excerpt from her book at our Web site npr.org/talk.

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